Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Mazoltuv Borukhova

[Update September 19, 2010: I think my interpretation is a little different from others who have read (and perhaps even wrote) this article, so I figured I should clarify. Namely, in my interpretation, Michelle was Iphigenia, sacrificed at the custody hearing to Malakov, and Mazultov, the Clytemnestra of this tale, seeks her revenge on Agamemnon.]

I had planned on reading the short story, but when I by chance started on Janet Malcolm’s “Iphigenia in Forest Hills” in the New Yorker (May 3, 2010), I– to use a colloquialism– couldn’t put it down. The Iphigenia in Forest Hills is a child named Michelle, the daughter of Mazoltuv Borukhova and Daniel Malakov. The title alludes to a tale from Greek mythology, and for the ignorant (like myself), it turns out Wikipedia’s entry on Clytemnestra, Iphigenia’s mother, is more helpful than the one on Iphigenia. Not surprisingly, Malcolm’s article centers around the Clytemnestra in Forest Hills.

The article starts out in a courtroom, where Borukhova and Mikhail Mallayev are co-defendants in Malakov’s murder. It continues anachronistically to unravel the seemingly turbulent marriage and divorce of Borukhova and Malakov, juxtaposing the courtroom drama at the beginning of the story with another that preceded it: a custody hearing that took Michelle from Borukhova and put her with Malakov.

The article is by far the most arresting work I have read in a while, and regardless of how one might feel about Borukhova’s guilt or innocence, Malcolm’s work raises questions about our legal system and how the selective exclusion of evidence can affect one’s perceptions. Two sentences near the article’s end continue to haunt me:

A child on a tricycle, pedalling [sic] vigorously and laughing in a forced and exaggerated manner, preceded them. It was Michelle.

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